The kindergarten experience can be one of the most exciting in your child's school career. It's basically the 5-year-old version of a college freshman year, when independence and self-sufficiency rise to whole new levels.
Every kindergarten program is different: Some are more academic, others more play-oriented, and still others adhere to "alternative" teaching philosophies that can direct what your child learns, and, more significantly, how he or she learns it. But you can count on certain basics. These are things your child needs to succeed in life -- and, more immediately, in first grade.
Here, five of the most incredible lessons, discoveries and skills your child will absorb like a sponge in the course of the year. The first is perhaps the most challenging and life-changing for your child (and startling for you!).
You Can Read!
Hopefully, you've been reading to your child since birth, because the greater the exposure, the better-equipped he or she will be for one of the most incredible processes in the kindergarten year: that's right, learning to read.
It's an amazing thing, watching words reveal their secrets for what may be the first time in your child's life. Some children have an easy time of it; for others, it's more of a challenge. A few kindergarteners even come in on the first day with some pretty great reading skills. It's very individual, and all completely normal.
Whatever the exact degree of personal growth throughout the year, your child will leave kindergarten knowing letters and their sounds, recognizing rhyming words, and with a steadily developing ability to read -- really read! -- at least simple words and sentences.
Which brings us to the next incredible lesson ...
You Can Do It -- All By Yourself!
Up to now, you, as a parent, had a slew of magical abilities. You know the "Stop" sign says stop, the right shoe goes on the right foot (yes, always), and that opening a single-serving of applesauce hinges entirely on that tiny little tab at the edge of the foil lid.
In kindergarten, those magical abilities are revealed, one by one, to be within your child's reach. Reading words, opening lunch items, putting on shoes and jackets and applying sunscreen before recess become practically commonplace. He or she may even master the bunny-ear approach to tying shoelaces this year.
The result is a boost in self-confidence and self-sufficiency, and an overall "I can do it!" feeling that might make you seem a tad less magical. It's a huge milestone in children's lives. Suddenly, what always seemed to be frustratingly just out of reach is within their control -- perhaps with just a wee bit of help every now and then (oh, how sunscreen does sting the eyes).
Speaking of a little help ...
Teamwork is a GOOD Thing!
In preschool, "working in groups" means splattering washable paint on each other, and struggling to share the dinosaur when you really, really want it for yourself. In kindergarten, it means, or at least starts to mean, assisting one another toward a shared goal.
OK, so your 5 year old probably won't be writing up task distributions with his teammates, but he or she will be in the early stages of understanding that working as a team doesn't mean you get less. When done right, it can get a job done better, with more giggles and a whole lot faster -- and that can mean early recess.
With a little (well, a lot) of practice, kindergarten teamwork can lay the groundwork for successful interpersonal interactions, especially in the workplace, for the rest of your child's life.
Next, the incredible world of numerals ...
Numbers Can TELL You Things!
Pre-kindergarten children have probably been familiar with numbers for some time. They may be able to tell the difference between a number and a letter. They may be able to identify the shapes of some numbers and recognize that they often appear on mailboxes and apartment doors. They may be able to count to 10.
What will most likely be new is an understanding that numbers mean something. They can help you understand and navigate the world. If you're lost, they can tell a police officer how to call your mom and get you home. If you're bored in math class, they can tell you how much longer it'll be till recess. Three of them in a particular order can even help you save a life.
Kindergarteners begin learning how to tell time, count all the way to 20 (or beyond), dial 911, remember addresses and phone numbers, and start to acquire a sense of addition and subtraction by adding and taking away physical objects from groups.
And finally, the lesson as big as the universe ...
The World is HUGE!
To average 5 year olds, the world extends approximately to the playground on the other side of town. Possibly to Grandma's house a couple of hours away. The people in it are what people are like. Whichever holidays they celebrate are the ones everybody celebrates.
You've probably already been teaching the lesson at home, but it's in kindergarten that it really starts to hit home. In science, they learn in simple terms the size and scope of the country, the world, the universe. They see pictures of the pyramids in Egypt and of astronauts on the moon, learn about the animals and plants they'd find in the rainforests of Brazil, watch videos of polar bears in the Arctic and discover that Thanksgiving is only Thanksgiving in the U.S.
Perhaps most incredibly, these discoveries at the age of 5 can sow the seeds of a better world, fostering early the traits of acceptance, open-mindedness and kindness to people who are different from you.
Combine that with introductions to reading, writing, math, interpersonal skills and countless other life lessons encountered in the very first year of formal school, and you've got the makings of a year that can change everything.
And set the stage for first grade, the next great adventure ...
For more information on kindergarten and to learn about what awaits in first grade, check out the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks gets schooled on what the differences are between a college and university.
Author's Note: 5 Incredible Things You'll Learn in Kindergarten
As a mom writing about kindergarten readiness and curriculum, I found myself constantly surprised in the course of my research. With a toddler at home, we have several years before we'll start school, and yet, in gathering all of this information, I found that some kindergarten skills are ones my child already has -- and others are ones I can scarcely imagine her possessing. For me, this article reinforces the idea that every child really does develop at a different pace -- that whether he or she measures "ahead" or "behind" or "just right" seems more a matter for textbooks than for practice. As with almost everything else in parenting, the kindergarten experience varies from child to child and can be exciting, stressful and/or a huge surprise -- hopefully somewhat less the latter after reading this.
More Great Links
- Grade-by-Grade Learning: Kindergarten. PBS Parents. (May 28, 2012) http://www.pbs.org/parents/goingtoschool/what_kinder.html
- How They Grow in Kindergarten. Family Education. (May 28, 2012) http://life.familyeducation.com/kindergarten/child-development/29538.html
- Kindergarten: What Will They Learn? Family Education. (May 28, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/kindergarten/parents-and-school/38484.html
- Perrone, Vito. "The Kindergarten Curriculum." Family Education. (May 28, 2012) http://school.familyeducation.com/kindergarten/curriculum-planning/38485.html
- Preparing for Kindergarten. Scholastic Parents. (May 28, 2012) http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/preparing-for-kindergarten/